2 – Repeated violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

South Africa

The ITUC affiliates in South Africa are the Confederation of South African Workers’ Unions (CONSAWU), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU).

South Africa ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1996 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1996.

In practice

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Strikers intimidated at Massmart21-11-2021

The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) workers reported on 21 November 2021 that they were facing increased intimidation from the Massmart corporation.
It was the third day of the nationwide strike by the shop workers, protesting at the Massmart Group’s decision to unilaterally restructure and change workers’ terms and conditions of employment without consultation. The workers were demanding wage increases, an end to retrenchments and improved labour practices.
Massmart had decided to impose a 40-hour working week, which included Sunday work with no premium, as well as a reduction of working hours from 195 hours to 120 hours. The unilateral change to terms and conditions of employment would also affect workers at Makro, where commission earners had been overburdened with unreasonably high targets.
A number of protests had begun earlier in the year, in July, but these were undermined when management began intimidating protesting workers through legal notices and putting workers who participated in the collective actions on unpaid leave to self-isolate for allegedly violating COVID-19 safety rules.
Similar tactics were used against the November strikers, along with sending text messages to workers saying they were being replaced by contract workers and sending managers out to the car park where workers were protesting.

Five hundred workers fired for taking part in extended strike action13-11-2021

Five hundred workers who were terminated at the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality for allegedly taking part in illegal strike action have been reinstated after the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and COSATU intervened to demand their reinstatement.
The Steve Tshwete Municipality employees were demanding the implementation of the adjustment of their salaries across the board. The employees commenced strike action on 21 September 2021.
The workers had been given a 48-hour return-to-work ultimatum on 8 November, and when they failed to return, they were given notice of the termination of their employment. The workers accused senior municipal officials and leaders of having links to several companies that were contracted to work for the municipality. One of their demands was that outsourced services should be ended.

Dry Cleaners refuse to recognise union11-10-2021

Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) went on strike on 11 October 2021 at Spot On Dry Cleaners & Launderers in Johannesburg after the company refused to recognise it.
The union said it represented some 120 employees at the laundry cleaning service, but Spot On’s owners claimed that NUMSA’s scope does not cover their business.
“We demonstrated to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) that our scope does indeed cover them, and the commissioner agreed. However, the owners still arrogantly refuse to cooperate with us,” said NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.
The company also unsuccessfully sought a court order to ban the strike.
The country’s Constitution allows workers to join a union of their choice without interference from employers.

Striker killed while preparing to march, picketers shot at05-10-2021

A member of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) was killed on 5 October 2021 while gathering with colleagues to take part in a protest march.
Thousands of workers in the metal and engineering sector had begun strike action to demand an eight per cent salary increase across the board and were organising a series of marches across the country.
The man who was killed died on the first day of the strike when a motorist ploughed into a group of workers while they were waiting to be collected at a pick-up point for the march in Wadeville.
“It seems the motorist was angry when they were picketing and took the law into his own hands,” NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said.
NUMSA is also deeply concerned about several other reports of attacks on striking workers participating in peaceful pickets. The trade union claimed that some members had been attacked by police and private security companies and, in some instances, had even been shot at.
As the strike went on, further incidents were reported. At least six people were injured when police fired rubber bullets at workers picketing outside Wireforce in Germiston on 11 October. When the police first arrived, NUMSA members told them that it was a protected national strike, but the police responded that there was an interdict which prevented the strikers from being within 150 metres of the Wireforce premises. One police officer began counting down from ten for them to disperse. “We were leaving when they started shooting, so they shot at our backs,” said a NUMSA representative.
The strike ended after three weeks when NUMSA signed a three-year agreement with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA), giving a six per cent rise.

Union organiser assassinated19-08-2021

On 19 August 2021, Malibongwe Mdazo, a campaigner and organiser for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), was assassinated in broad daylight at the office of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in Rustenburg. He was shot as he was exiting with a group of NUMSA members from the CCMA offices, in full view of the public. The hitmen fired at least 10 bullets.
NUMSA officials were participating in conciliation at the CCMA as part of the verification process for NUMSA members at Newrack, one of the contract companies at Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats), which outsources most of its workforce in Rustenburg. Another NUMSA member and a member of the public were also shot and injured in the shooting.
NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim was convinced Mdazo was murdered because of his recruitment role.
“We believe his work is the reason his life was taken. He was among those who led the recent strike where the union was challenging contractors at Implats to grant organisational rights to NUMSA.”
He furthermore said NUMSA had been confronted with a situation where all Implats contractors had adopted an anti-worker and anti-union attitude.
“They have done everything possible to block the existence of the trade union within Implats. This union-bashing attitude of the employers led to a point where all of NUMSA’s interim committees were dismissed.”

University refuses to recognise union10-08-2021

About 100 workers at Rhodes University began a strike on 10 August 2021 after the institution failed to recognise their union, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW). As well as calling for union recognition, workers were protesting at the lack of promotions and career development.
NUPSAW had approached the university on 29 April seeking recognition, including the right to organise and recruit members and hold meetings on campus.
When asked why the university would not recognise the union, its senior communications officer said NUPSAW was not sufficiently representative and did not qualify for the organisational rights afforded to the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), and Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
South Africa’s Labour Relations Act does not prescribe the percentage of members a union needs to be “sufficiently representative”, nor does it allow employers to simply reject unions. Instead, it says that if a registered union applies for organisational rights, the employer must meet with the union within 30 days and “endeavour to conclude a collective agreement”. If an employer refuses to recognise a union, then an arbitrator will make a binding ruling on whether the union should be recognised or not.
NUPSAW field worker Siviwe Twani said the union has more than 160 members at the university, about 10 per cent of the total workforce, while NUPSAW provincial organiser Lerato Thethe said union leaders tried to meet with vice chancellor Sizwe Mabizela, but his assistant said his “diary was full”.
When the university received notice from NUPSAW regarding their intention to take industrial action, it informed staff that participation in the strike would be on the basis of the “no work no pay” rule. Rhodes University also issued a cease-and-desist letter to NUPSAW and provincial leader Lerato Thethe for unlawful picketing on Rhodes University’s campus.

Hundreds facing dismissal over strike action01-05-2021

The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) reported that 525 firefighters could be fired further to disciplinary action taken in 2021, in response to a strike in 2019.
City of Cape Town firefighters had embarked on a strike over long working hours and the municipality’s pay structure, but the strike was later deemed illegal by the labour court.
A court further ruled in 2020 that the current shift and allowance system were valid and binding until a new collective agreement was determined. In December 2020, the union duly approached the city with a new proposal, which included reducing working hours from a 56-hour week to 40 hours, with overtime paid according to the city’s policy and in line with current legislation.
However, SAMWU regional organiser Archie Hearne said the city was reluctant to negotiate a new agreement, as it liked the existing arrangements. Instead, by April 2021 it had moved to institute disciplinary action.
The city confirmed that a disciplinary process was under way relating to events in 2019, when some firefighters affiliated to SAMWU refused to work their contractual hours in terms of a shift agreement.

Workers suspended after strike over safety at milling company01-05-2021

Four members of the National Emancipated and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (NEAWUSA) were suspended on 2 May 2021 by the OVK milling company, in Tweespruit, South Africa, following a month-long strike over unsafe conditions in the workplace.
The workers handed over a memorandum of demands to management after countless unsuccessful attempts to raise safety concerns with the employer, in particular the way cases of injuries were dealt with and discrimination against black workers.
One example given was that of 26-year-old Thabiso Sethuntsa, who lost two fingers in July 2020. He was a general worker at OVK when he got injured. After he reported his injury, his contract was terminated. Nine months later, he was still waiting for the compensation fund because the employer did not report the injury until four months had passed, rather than within the seven days required by law to apply for compensation.
Thabiso Sethuntsa also said their white manager gave workers a tough time. They had to work 12-hour shifts with no breaks and no leave, and they could not even take time off for family funerals.

Water company imposes conditions unilaterally, bans legal strike28-04-2021

On 21 April 2021, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) appeared in court opposite Rand Water after the company tried to ban a protected strike called by the union.
SAMWU decided to embark on an indefinite protected strike after the employer unilaterally changed the workers’ conditions of service, in particular withdrawing incentive bonuses that workers had been receiving for the last 17 years. The union had tried several times to meet with the employer to convince them to reconsider their decision.
The judge was critical of the employer for failing to meet with the union to solve the issue as a matter of urgency and urged the parties to meet and come up with a settlement agreement.
SAMWU postponed its strike until 28 April 2021 to allow the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to arbitrate on the matter.

Threats, rubber bullets and petrol bombs against striking dairy workers07-01-2021

Striking dairy workers faced threats, petrol bomb attacks and rubber bullets.
The strike by five thousand workers at Clover, South Africa’s largest dairy company, began on 22 November 2021 in response to job losses, pay cuts and health and safety concerns. When it was bought out by the Israeli-owned Milco in 2019, the deal was approved by the Competition Tribunal on the understanding that the new owner would create 550 jobs within five years and there would be no retrenchments for three years.

Instead, the General Industries Workers Union of SA (GIWUSA) and the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) said that 800 workers were dismissed and 800 more had accepted voluntary severance packages, and that the remaining workers faced a 20 per cent pay cut. Clover also planned to close four factories with the loss of a further 1,000 jobs, introduce 12-hour days and increase workloads.
On 29 December, the unions met with the Ministry of Economic Development to call for the Competition Tribunal to declare Milco and Clover in breach of the conditions authorising their merger.
Clover’s response was to hire a private police company armed with military vehicles and machine guns to intimidate the workers and break the strike. Then, in January 2022, GIWUSA reported the following: “On the night of Friday 7 January, a striking worker’s car was petrol bombed, and on the night of Saturday 8 January, another striking worker’s car was petrol bombed.” It was further alleged that on the night of Sunday 9 January, five carloads of men visited two striking workers and demanded that they end the strike. On the same night, another three striking workers received threatening phone calls demanding that they end the strike.
The dispute continued into February 2022.

Workers at Truda foods locked in ongoing labour dispute10-12-2020

Truda Foods in Komani (Queenstown) is accused of imposing bad working conditions, managerial arrogance, bullying and of undermining unions. According to the Komani Residents’ Association (Kora), the South African Security and Allied Workers’ Union (SASWU), and the workers suspended by the employer, the workers at the factory are exploited and live in fear of being dismissed. The company has denied the allegations levelled against it. 
Xolani Ngxathu from Kora explained that Truda Foods workers had been picketing outside the Komani factory to demand a meeting with the company CEO, as the management was not keeping its promises. The company CEO, Colin van Heerden, denied this, claiming that he first learnt that the workers wanted to meet him via a radio programme. 
Workers have also been charged and suspended over ’’liking’’ a Facebook page critical of the company. Olwethu Samente, a maintenance worker and the chairperson for the South African Security and Allied Workers’ Union (SASWU), is one of the people who were charged and suspended. “We were suspended with immediate effect and the charge was for liking a Facebook post of Kora.” 
On Wednesday 9 December 2020, the suspended workers appeared in the Port Elizabeth Labour Court to oppose the final interdict against them. Since 5 November, they have faced a new charge of contempt of court. According to Xolile Mashukuca, the general secretary of SASWU, the contempt of court charge will be heard on 5 February 2021. “Our lawyers and company lawyers have reached an agreement to facilitate a meeting between the workers and the company before the next court appearance,” he said.

Labour court victory for SACTWU10-12-2020

The COSATU-affiliated Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) won an important Labour Court judgment which strengthens the right to strike. 
In late October 2020, the South African Carpet Manufacturers’ Employers Association (SACMEA) lodged an urgent Labour Court interdict application against a SACTWU-led wage strike in the carpet textile sector. 
Union members in this sector embarked on a national wage strike after wage negotiations failed to yield a settlement. 
The employers claimed that the strike was unprotected (‘illegal’). They alleged that an agreement had already been reached which had settled the 2020 wage dispute. In addition, employers claimed that the certificate of non-resolution, issued by the commissioner handling the conciliation of this wage dispute, had no standing in law. 
The parties engaged in tough negotiations for months. This matter was finalised in December 2020 under the opinion of Labour Court Judge J Gush, who handed down judgment in favour of the trade union. 
He ruled that “...Section 64 of the LRA (Labour Relations Act) provides that a condition precedent to embarking on protected industrial action is the issuing of a certificate that the dispute remains unresolved...”. The judgment, in summary, confirms that SACTWU’s carpet sector national wage strike is indeed a protected (“legal”) strike.

Victory for COSATU and workers 03-12-2020

The Congress of South African Trade Unions COSATU welcomed the Labour Appeals Courts December ruling, reversing a previous ruling by the Labour Court that interdicted the COSATU strike against the banking sector last year. 
The federation worked with its affiliated union SASBO to organise a financial sector strike against ongoing retrenchments in the financial sector. 
BUSA, a business lobby group that represents the private sector in South Africa, went to court to interdict the strike, arguing that COSATU did not follow proper processes as articulated by Section 77 of the Labour Relations Act. After the strike was interdicted, COSATU totally expressed its disapproval with the court’s decision and then launched an urgent appeal against the ruling. 
The interdict by the Labour Court was meant to curtail and undermine the right to strike. This is a significant victory by the workers, as never has this need to defend the right to strike been so critical than in this period of economic uncertainty.

Doctor accused of ramming protesting healthcare workers with car12-11-2020

About a hundred members and healthcare workers of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) protested outside the Mabandla Clinic in Gunguluza on 11 November 2020 for better working conditions and higher wages. Protesters allowed patients to enter the clinic but blocked fellow healthcare workers from entering. 
It was the second day of action by the group. On 10 November outside the Laetitia Bam Day Hospital in KwaNobuhle, two women standing among protesters on the road outside the clinic were knocked over, allegedly by a Uitenhage doctor driving a blue BMW. 
Police spokesperson Captain Gerda Swart maintained that the case was “a normal accident report and not a criminal case’’. Police have declined to investigate further. 

Workers suspended for social media likes30-10-2020

On 30 October 2020, workers from Truda Foods gathered to protest the firing of their colleagues for activity on social media. Truda suspended several workers on 15 October for “liking” posts (in September) made by their union’s general secretary and the Komani Residents’ Association (Kora), to which they also belong. 
Olwethu Samente, Vuyiswa Gontsana, Luyanda Qumza, Yolisa Alam, Zethu Sopete and Lungiswa Solundwana say they received letters suspending them for committing “any action/conduct detrimental to the interest of the employer” and “indecent/inappropriate conduct” because they had liked various Facebook posts the previous month, which the employer later said had brought Truda’s name into disrepute. 
After being suspended, these workers asked to see Truda’s social media policy. Instead, they say they were given Truda’s disciplinary code. But there is nothing in the disciplinary code related to social media.

Disciplinary hearing for striking Lekwa workers 20-10-2020

On 20 October 2020, the disciplinary hearing for workers of Lekwa Municipality commenced. Of the employees of the Lekwa Municipality who participated in the strike during lockdown, only five employees were found not guilty on two charges. More than 190 other employees were found guilty. 
The hearing was held under the auspices of Section 18 of the Disciplinary Procedures Collective Agreement. The employees were charged with unauthorised absence from work without permission due to participation in an illegal (unprotected) strike action. 
A second charge was unauthorised absence from work, contravening the provisions of the code and agreement by failing to report for work as required until the date of issue of these charges. The matter remains ongoing, with the parties submitting mitigation and aggravation circumstances.

Hit-and-run on first day of Clover strike16-10-2020

On the first day of the national strike against dairy giant Clover, union member Khilson Manaka died after being run over in Clayville, Johannesburg, allegedly while fleeing police gunfire. Mr Manaka was the father of five children. 
The incident occurred in late afternoon when the metro police gave protesters five minutes to disperse before they started firing rubber bullets. When the police pursued fleeing protesters across a busy road, Mr Manaka was struck and killed by a car. The driver fled the scene, and due to police intervention, the protesters were unable to check who the driver was.

Police brutality against marching students condemned15-10-2020

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) condemned the use of brute force by the South African Police Services members against marching students. 
The South African Students’ Congress (SASCO) had organised a march to the Presidency at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 15 October to deliver a memorandum of demands on the transformation of Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges to become institutions of choice for students. 
However, the police elected to use high-handed tactics to disperse the students, who were marching peacefully. More than ten students were arrested while the rest were dispersed using tear gas. This left many innocent students suffering from severe eye and respiratory pain as well as skin irritation.

Seventy-three workers dismissed for protest over unpaid COVID-19 relief 18-09-2020

The Southern African Clothing and Textiles Workers Union (SACTWU) is challenging the September dismissal of over 73 workers following a protest over unpaid COVID-19 relief funds. 
The workers were employed at Hanes South Africa, formerly known as Playtex, based in Jacobs, Durban. The dismissed workers say they are not able to access any benefits because the system at the Department of Labour still shows that they are employed by the company. 
The 73 workers say their trouble started after they participated in protests alongside 700 of their colleagues on 23 and 24 June 2020 over unpaid COVID-19 relief funds. 
Nkululeko Mavimbela, from uMlazi, said he received a dismissal letter on 14 August for his participation in the protest. 
In a statement, the company said all of its 800 employees who participated in the “illegal and unprotected” strike in June were given written warnings. It said 73 of those employees were dismissed for “gross misconduct” that included “incitement, intimidation and destruction of company property following a thorough investigation and a hearing held on 30 July”.

Police clash with NEHAWU members in Cape Town03-09-2020

Police used stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse members of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) who had marched to Parliament to deliver a list of demands related to personal protective equipment (PPE) and better wages. However, before the memorandum could be handed over, the police broke up the march, arresting two protesters. 
NEHAWU, the country’s third-largest public sector union, representing 108,000 healthcare workers, called on the government to be more accountable and transparent in its handling of the fight against COVID-19. As it embarked on its national day of action, the union gave the government an ultimatum: respond favourably to demands or face an indefinite strike by healthcare workers.

Lack of consultation of unions in announced restructuration of SAA13-11-2019

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) have raised concerns over a lack of consultation by the Department of Public Enterprises, which announced on 11 November its plan to radically restructure South African Airways (SAA). As required by section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, an employer must consult with recognised labour unions and keep employees abreast of who may be affected by the restructuring process. The announced restructuration process could affect about 1,000 employees. While SAA says it has consulted its 5,146 employees regarding possible retrenchments, unions say that such consultation process has not taken place and that they were only informed through a media statement. According to the unions, the announcement of retrenchments is part of a strategy to influence the outcome of the ongoing wage negotiations and a threat to get workers to drop their demands for wage increases. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) ruled shortly after that SAA had to include trade unions in its retrenchment consultation process, even those that represent workers only in some divisions at SAA and those that are not recognised at South African Airways (SAA).

Retrenchments of workers without prior consultation of the union18-07-2019

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has condemned the public announcement by the steel producer ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) to retrench 2,000 workers without consulting the union as required by section 189 of the Labour Relations Act. According to NUMSA’s regional secretary, Mokete Makoko, the dismissals happened just a few months after a strike of the members in March to end outsourcing at the company. For the union, in doing so the management clearly want to punish workers.

Over 600 striking miners dismissed 20-05-2019

Mining group Anglo American Platinum (AAP) dismissed at least 643 employees taking strike action at a platinum mine. The miners at the Mototolo site in the northern province of Limpopo had downed tools on 12 May in protest at the change in their medical coverage following AAP’s takeover at the mine in November 2018. According to the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), which had called the strike, 947 miners were dismissed. The company, for its part, insisted that the new medical scheme offered the same advantages as the previous one. The strikers have appealed against their dismissal.

Two union leaders murdered30-01-2019

On 30 January 2019, Roland Mani, deputy provincial secretary of the South Africa Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) in Limpopo, was shot at Tshisahulu Thohoyandou. Earlier in the same month, Tshililo Tshimangadzo Mositho, the former provincial chairperson of SAMWU in Limpopo, was shot at his home in Makwarela. Both union leaders were employed by the Vhembe District Municipality. According to SAMWU and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), both union leaders had been outspoken in campaigns demanding accountability for those implicated in the VBS scandal and calling for their arrests. SAMWU has reported that other union officials fear for their lives and are therefore hiding.

Sibanye Stillwater seeks strike interdict over mineworkers’ pay claims15-01-2019

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) accused Sibanye-Stillwater of trying to interdict its protected strike, saying the company had tried underhand tactics to discredit the labour action from the outset.
On 18 December 2018, Sibanye filed an application at the Labour Court in Johannesburg for an interdict to prevent members of AMCU from continuing with their strike, which began on 21 November.
Almost 15,000 workers affiliated to AMCU have been on a protected strike since 21 November at Sibanye’s gold operations in South Africa. The strike has been marked by violence and intimidation and three non-striking died in unclear circumstances, while several protesters were assaulted at the company’s Beatrix, Kloof and Driefontein mines.
AMCU members embarked on a strike demanding R1,000 increases in monthly wages, every year for the next three years. They declined to return to work after the mining company’s recent announcement that it had extended the wage deal it covertly signed with rival unions to all employees at its operations.
Sibanye currently employs approximately 32,200 people at its South African gold operations, with AMCU representing approximately 43 percent of employees in the bargaining unit. In court, AMCU accused Sibanye’s senior management of recruiting members for rival unions, in a bid to diminish the union’s bargaining power. Sibanye argues that AMCU no longer represents the majority of workers at its gold operations, saying that the National Union of Mineworkers, UASA and Solidarity now had a collective 49 per cent representation in the bargaining unit.
But AMCU’S legal counsel questioned the authenticity of the audit results presented by Sibanye and opposed the application based on the way the management of Sibanye and the auditing firm they employed conducted the membership audit.
The judgement has been reserved while the strike continues at the mine in Johannesburg and a secondary strike action is organised at Sibanye-Stillwater’s platinum operations in Rustenburg.

Court orders Samwu workers at Matjhabeng to return to work 29-11-2018

Workers at the Matjhabeng Local Municipality in Welkom in the Free State have been ordered by the court to return to work after weeks of protesting against the mayor, Nkosenjani Speelman. The protests were a reaction to the municipality’s failure to pay over monies intended for their third-party beneficiaries and other. The mining town has seen a month of protests at the troubled municipality where workers are calling for the mayor, Nkosenjani Speelman, to resign.
Secretary of the South African Municipal Worker’s Union (Samwu) in Welkom has indicated that a fraud case has been opened against the municipality and one of the matters is the municipality’s failure to pay over the worker’s installments for life and disability policies to the intended third-party beneficiaries despite the deductions for these from workers’ salaries.

New labour bills in South Africa attack worker rights and democracy27-11-2018

On 27 November 2018, the Parliament adopted Act No. 8 of 2018: Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2018. These amendments constitute a major attack on workers’ rights, won through decades of struggle, and will further deepen and entrench inequality and roll back important democratic gains.
According to the government, the Act is intended to reduce the number of protracted, unprotected and violent strikes. In fact, the amendments make it practically impossible for workers to go on protected strikes due to the introduction of a secret strike ballot, default picketing rules, compulsory arbitration and more cumbersome procedures prior to the declaration of a strike actions.
The amendments adopted contain all the key changes as proposed by business. First, the measures foreseen, although designed to minimise violent strikes, will, in fact, discourage strikes in general. By application of these new amendments, trade unions are now required to hold secret ballots to decide on strikes. By individualising the decision to strike, the secret ballot fundamentally undermines the collective nature of a strike.
Second, the Labour Relations Act amendments introduce a mechanism whereby strikes are resolved through an advisory arbitration panel, which is led by a senior commissioner of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and there is a further increase in the number of days for conciliation from 30 to 35 days. Circumstances under which an advisory arbitration panel can be convened are very broadly defined and only one party’s consent is required. Therefore, employers will have an easy way to resolve strikes without necessarily having to engage their workers directly or agree to any of their demands. The decision of the advisory arbitration, unless appealed, will be binding on all parties.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesting workers16-11-2018

On 16 December 2018, 2,000 striking workers belonging to the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) were violently attacked by the Gauteng police, who used rubber bullets to disperse them. Protesters were demonstrating outside Dis-Chem’s offices, a pharmacy retail chain, in Midrand, Johannesburg.
The workers were demanding a salary increase of up to R12,500 and annual bonuses equal to basic salaries.
Union chairperson Solly Malema said: “We tabled the wage demands in June before the employer. The employer is not fighting financial constraints but is simply saying because we are not in majority or more than 30%, we cannot enter into negotiations.” He added that according to their records, they were more than the 30% and were therefore in a position to negotiate with the employer.
“What the employer is doing is that when we send membership forms, they do not load them on their payroll system and are doing so deliberately to make sure we do not reach that 30%,” Malema alleged.
The union chairperson also said the workers were only willing to return to work if the employer expressed a willingness to negotiate with them.

Harmony Gold dismisses six trade union officials in Kusasalethu mine10-11-2017

On 10 November 2017, workers in the Kusasalethu mine organised a strike in protest against the dismissal of six members of the branch leadership of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Harmony Gold argued that the dismissal followed disciplinary process due to their role in unprotected strikes earlier in 2017. The company approached the Labour Court on 13 November 2017 for an interdict against the strike in protest against dismissal of trade union leaders. Kusasaltehu was hit by several strike actions throughout the year of 2017. In August 2017 five miners died in the mine killed by a fall of ground following a seismic event.

Court fails to protect shop stewards against dismissal for organising a picket in protest against racial discrimination by Sun International26-10-2017

On 26 October 2017, the Labour Court backed Sun City’s dismissal of trade union leaders over an unprotected picket organised in protest against Sun City’s catering to racial preferences of the client. In 2013, Sun City – a luxury resort owned by Sun International – organised the RSA 30 mln (USD 2 mln) wedding party for a Gupta family, listed among the wealthiest and most widely politically connected families in South Africa. Three shop stewards from South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) were among a group of workers who organised a picket on 11 May 2013, in protest against Sun City’s catering to the client’s requirement of having only non-African waiters and drivers work at the wedding party. The picket was organised despite the fact that Sun City had obtained the Court’s prohibition of a strike action prior to the event, and it was followed by disciplinary dismissals. The Court found the dismissal of shop stewards substantively fair since, according to the Court, the picket was unprotected and it arose from the conduct of the third party, not the employer. Thus, the Court did not support SACCAWU’s argument that dismissal should not be recognised as a proportionate measure given that the employer’s conduct – satisfying race-based customer preferences – was unjustified, i.e., in violation of the fundamental labour standard granting protection against racial discrimination in employment and occupation.

SAAT threatens trade unions over corruption allegations 02-10-2017

In August 2017 the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) organised a demonstration calling for publication of the audit report issued in May 2017. The report investigated the South Africa Airlines Technical (SAAT) tender process, identified managers implicated in corruption and tender irregularities and recommended disciplinary proceedings. In reaction to the demonstration, SAAT sought the ban of the protest by the Labour Court and initiated dismissal proceedings against four employees, members of the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), for commenting on corruption allegations in the social media, and suspended the NUMSA shop steward in SAAT. The Labour Court did not issue an interdiction and instead ordered SAAT to implement recommendations of the audit report. On 2 October 2017 NUMSA announced that in reaction to its demand to implement the Court’s decision, SAAT threatened to withdraw its recognition of NUMSA as a bargaining partner.

Police violence against striking aluminium smelter workers at South 3202-10-2017

Three workers were injured and taken to hospital when police fired rubber bullets at picketing workers at South 32’s aluminium smelter (a global company with operations in Australia, Colombia, and Mozambique) in Richards Bay in the KwaZulu-Natal province on 2 October 2017. The 600 striking workers were demanding the following: a general wage increase of 7.5 per cent with 8.2 per cent for the lowly paid; medical aid contributions from the employer; a housing allowance; and equal pay for work of equal value. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemned the use of violence against the striking workers and the refusal of the company to meet workers’ demands.

Binding non-parties to collective bargaining agreements in the engineering sector at threat of legal challenge 17-09-2017

In the beginning of July 2017, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), supported by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), started negotiations to demand a 15 per cent wage increase for all workers in the engineering sector and to protest against the employers’ proposal to allow for a 50 per cent cut in a minimum wage rate for the new entrants (R20 per hour instead of R40). The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) granting workers a seven per cent increase was signed at the end of August 2017 with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) representing employers. However, according to the SEIFSA managing director who spoke on 17 September 2017 during the annual Metals and Engineering Conference held in Johannesburg, the non-signatories of the CBA were likely to challenge the binding nature of the CBA, following the recent court decision. In June 2016 Pretoria High Court set aside the employers’ challenge to the constitutionality of binding non-parties to CBAs but at the same time ruled that the extension of such agreements to non-parties was subject to other existing laws including the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, therefore open to challenges based on reasonableness and rationality. Since the decision, extension of CBAs has already been contested in several legal actions led by employers’ organisations.

Sibanye’s Cooke mine fires more than 1500 workers over strike12-07-2017

On 12 July 2017, Sibanye Gold Mine announced dismissal of more than 1500 of its workers at its Cooke operation in West Rand, in response to an “illegal” strike led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Workers were protesting against the company’s decision to reduce the food supply for the underground workers, which, according to the management, was a measure against illegal mining. The next day after the strike action Sibanye Cooke dismissed 1500 workers, including, apart from around 500 AMCU members, also around 700 members of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who were not taking part in the strike, but who abstained from work in fear of unrest and riots. The strike took place at a difficult time for South Africa’s mine workforce, as the industry has shed 80,000 jobs over the last five years. Later this year, in November 2017 Sibanye Cooke gold and uranium shafts on the West Rand cut over 7,000 jobs over the restructuring process, claiming economic necessity. A month earlier, in October 2017, the group operating Sibanye-Stillwater was noted to have a profit in the three months to the end of September 41 per cent higher than last year’s third quarter and five per cent up year-on-year.

Pretoria Zoo hires casual workers over strike12-07-2017

On 7 July 2017, one hundred and twenty workers of Pretoria Zoo affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) went on strike, following the breakdown of negotiations with management. Workers were demanding renegotiation of the eight-year-old collective agreement signed in 2009 by all National Zoological Gardens unions allowing for a seven-day work week without additional pay for working during weekends. On 9 July morning, the management of Pretoria Zoo called workers’ demands “financially unfeasible and impractical” and called on the police to disperse strikers who were barricading the entrance to the park. Three days later a number of casual workers were brought in to assist with cleaning services in place of the striking workers. The strike has not led to the resumption of negotiations between workers and management.

Poor working conditions continue at Western Cape wine farms21-11-2016

Five wine farms have been served non-compliance notices by the Western Cape Department of Labour following a documentary by a Danish filmmaker that sought to expose mistreatment of workers. The documentary depicted excessively long working hours, exposure to toxic pesticides, lack of protective equipment, deplorable living conditions and an unofficial use of the “dop system” – an apartheid-era arrangement in which workers are paid in alcohol rather than with money. In reaction, several retailers and supermarket chains stopped imports of Western Cape wines, which in turn mobilised VinPro, an industry body that represents 3,500 South African wine producers, to issue a statement. Although originally VinPro accused the documentary of being biased and taken out of context, it later said it had given its full support to the Western Cape Government to “rectify shortcomings with regard to farm worker housing, health and safety” and to collectively address the challenges faced on wine farms. This was not the first time violations of workers’ rights on the Western Cape wine farms has been exposed. In 2012 and 2013, workers on fruit farms in the Western Cape embarked on a strike demanding that the 69 Rand per day (under USD 7 at the time) standard minimum wage be doubled. They eventually settled on a 52% increase, amounting to 105 Rand per day (approximately USD 10).

Workers of Diro Manganese not paid for months 15-09-2016

Approximately 40 workers of the Diro Mangenese mine organised a sit-in at the company’s offices at Riverside Office Park, Centurion, in a protest against non-payment of their wages. According to the workers, more than 250 of them had not been paid their salaries in the previous five months. On 13 September, workers were brutally evicted from the company’s offices after the company and the owner of the building, Pivotman (Pty) Ltd, jointly applied for an eviction order to the North Gauteng High Court of Pretoria. During the eviction – carried out by masked guards from Prof Risk Security Services (PRSS) – some workers were assaulted, while others said they lost valuables, documents and wallets. The company was under business rescue proceedings due to a risk of insolvency. No arrangement has been made for salary payments.

Court rules in favour of dismissed SABC journalists 28-07-2016

On 26 July, the Labour Court ruled in favour of four of the eight journalists who were unlawfully dismissed for challenging the SABC’s editorial policy. The policy, which was described as outrageous censorship by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), sought to ban the coverage of violent protests. Following the judgment, the company decided to reinstate seven of the dismissed workers: Krivani Pillay, Suna Venter, Foeta Krige and Jacques Steenkamp covered by the judgment, together with the other three journalists - Thandeka Gqubule‚ Busisiwe Ntuli, Lukhanyo Calata - whose cases were pending. SABC has a long record of not respecting workers’ rights. The SABC’s Chief Operating Officer, who was responsible for introducing the policy, refused to bargain with the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA). MWASA, which represents around 700 workers at SABC, claimed that over 120 members have been fired from the SABC without disciplinary hearings.

150 Lafarge workers dismissed for engaging in a collective action 22-07-2016

Approximately 150 workers of Lafarge South Africa were dismissed after they organised several work stoppages at Lafarge sites, including the company’s main cement plant in Lichtenburg in the North West. The workers demanded the reinstatement of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) full-time shop stewards who were forcefully re-located from Lichtenburg to the Lafarge head office after they requested the company implement an agreement on a housing subsidy and on closing the wage gap.

Comair responds with lock-out to demands of wage increase 17-04-2016

Workers of Comair aviation company have been locked out by the management while on strike in demand for wage increases. The United Association of South Africa (UASA), which represents almost 60% of Comair workers, requested a 35% pay increase over three years. The company offered no more than 22.5% and refused to negotiate further. In response to the authorised strike action, Comair banned all the striking workers from the premises and the company announced the hiring of replacement staff.

Rubber bullets fired at striking miners01-04-2016

Twenty members of the Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) were shot with rubber bullets and injured while protesting at the Shanduka mine in Mpumalanga at the beginning of April 2016. The shots were fired by private security guards to disperse the protesters. The workers had been on strike for four months over a wage dispute. They were blocking a vehicle’s entry to the farm when the security guards intervened. The strike was legal and took place in a protected area.

Striking Pikitup workers threatened with dismissals 29-03-2016

On 29 March, the city of Johannesburg warned that it would no longer tolerate the strike by the municipal waste management workers and that those who did not return to work could face dismissals. On 8 March, workers at the Pikitup municipal waste management company started a strike demanding better salaries for those who earn 6,000 Rand (approximately USD 400) per month. The city refused to bargain with the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU), who led the protests, arguing that the wage demands were outside of the agreed framework. Nineteen striking workers were arrested once the strike began. Most of them were accused of criminal charges of public violence. Eleven of the workers were almost immediately released due to lack of evidence.

Police fire rubber bullets and water cannons at striking refuse workers26-11-2015

Police fired rubber bullets and water cannons at striking Pikitup workers in Braamfontein on 26 November 2015. There was a heavy police presence in the area as officers fired at the crowds in an attempt to disperse striking workers affiliated to the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU). They had been on strike for over a week over a number of issues, including pay, the introduction of casual workers and the decision to take away some benefits. The company obtained an interim court order barring SAMWU members from participating in the strike a few days later.
An agreement was signed on 3 December ending the dispute.

Stun grenades and tear gas used against striking parliamentary workers11-11-2015

Stun grenades were used to disperse around 200 striking parliamentary workers outside the National Council of Provinces on 11 November 2015. Riot police pushed their shields against workers on the steps and started removing them, warning them over a loud hailer to get out and leave the precinct. Workers belonging to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) tried to stand their ground, and chanted “we work here” as scuffles ensued. About 12 stun grenades were thrown and the air was reportedly thick with tear gas.
Parliamentary staff, affiliated to NEHAWU, had been on strike for three days over performance bonuses and the re-vetting of staff. The strike was suspended a few days later when partial agreement was reached over bonuses, but the dispute continued well into the new year.

Post office wins court order banning strike29-10-2015

When the Communication Workers’ Union announced it was calling 4,000 postal workers out on strike in Johannesburg, the South African Post Office (SAPO) responded by going to court to win a court order preventing the strike, planned to take place on 29 October 2015. The union was calling on SAPO to convert all contract workers to permanent employment, pay outstanding back pay, grant 10% salary increases for the current financial year, stop changes in workers’ terms and conditions of employment, and ensure a “total stop to piecemeal salary payments”. The union also called for the public protector to release a report on corruption at SAPO. The court ban made any strike, march or picket illegal.

Striking miners arrested10-09-2015

Twenty seven miners and members of the Vredendal community were arrested after taking part in a demonstration about pay outside the MSR Tormin mineral mine, Koekenaap, Lutzville on 10 September 2015. They appeared in the Magistrate’s Court on 11 September, charged with public violence. Charges against 17 of those arrested were dropped while the remaining ten were released on bail.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), representing 80 per cent of staff, had been in dispute with the Tormin mineral mine, on the west coast, since April when it began cutting workers’ wages without any prior negotiation. The mine is owned by the Australian company MRC.
After failed negotiations at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), Tormin employees went on strike on 4 September over wages and working hours. The police arrived, with guns and teargas, early on 10 September, to disperse the workers blocking the entrance to the mine. Clashes ensued and the arrests were made.
The strike was suspended after five weeks because many workers could no longer face the financial hardship it imposed. The ten strikers on bail were due to appear in court again at the end of the year. The union planned to continue pressing for better pay.

Shop stewards dismissed by health service laboratory01-08-2015

The National Health Laboratory Services’ (NHLS) management sent termination letters to 20 shop stewards from the Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) union in August 2015 following the collapse of wage negotiations.
The union had been in dispute with management over pay, with difficult negotiations dragging on since April. NEHAWU reported that management had approached workers directly, trying to get them to agree to its pay offer by signing acceptance letters, side-stepping the negotiating process. Management also issued a communiqué encouraging workers to resign from NEHAWU.
On 12 August NEHAW served management with a seven-day strike notice. Finally management returned to the negotiating table and agreement was reached on 19 August on a seven percent wage increases and a two year period for the implementation of new pay scales.

Trucking company fires six for joining union16-07-2015

Six employees of the GSP Trucking company in Stikland received dismissal notices on 16 July, claiming the company was in financial difficulties and due to close on 31 July. The company was still operating in August however, and was taking orders from potential customers for several months ahead. The six who were dismissed say the company had exploited and ill-treated them. They had decided to join the Motor Transport Workers’ Union of South Africa (MTWU) union. Shortly afterwards, they were dismissed.

Telkom bypasses unions and ignores collective agreement 01-07-2015

At the beginning of July 2015 Telkom sent retrenchment notices to 4,400 staff directly, bypassing the workers’ unions in contravention of a 2008 collective agreement. According to that agreement, the company should talk to the unions and agree on the terms before beginning restructuring.
The retrenchments were part of a turnaround plan Telkom had launched two years earlier resulting in thousands of job cuts. Telkom had plans to shed 7,800 more jobs to bring down staff costs to 25% of sales. The 4,400 job cuts were to be achieved through voluntary severance, early retirement and potential retrenchments.
Three unions, Solidarity, the Communication Workers Union and South African Communication Union applied to the Labour Court to prevent the retrenchments on the grounds that the employer had failed to consult them, and grant an order enforcing the terms of the agreement. The Labour Court suspended the retrenchment order and the company decided to offer severance packages to non-unionised staff only, about 40% of the workforce. Two weeks later however, on 23 July, after failing to reach agreement with the unions, the company decided to extended the offer of a redundancy package to all staff, unionised or not.

Community health workers arrested31-07-2014

In July 2014, about 100 community health workers were arrested and charged for staging a sit-in at the health department in Bloemfontein. The workers aimed to speak up against the failings in the health care system in the Free State. Previously, they had demanded to see public authorities to discuss redundancies and a net salary increase from R 1400 to R 3500. Community health workers are trained in basic health care, provide home-based care, counselling to patients, and help them take their medication.

Union steward killed 28-02-2014

In February 2014, a union steward was killed in a clash with police at an Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine where workers were holding a strike to press for higher wages. A member of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) was killed during a violent clash with police, which tried to clear a barricaded road that leads to the mine in the northern Limpopo province.

Police violence01-01-2013

On 16 August 2012, the police opened fire while trying to disperse a group of striking mineworkers in Nkaneng, killing 34 and wounding 78. The workers had been carrying knobkerries, pangas, sticks, and iron rods. The strike which began on 10 August was in relation to pay increases.

More than 800 farm workers took part in the protest in Nkqubela, Robertson in January 2013. However, shortly into the protest police officers arrived on the road with guns and opened fire on the protesters forcing them back into their communities where police continued to fire at the people. Several people were wounded in this latest incident of police brutality and the Human Rights Commission has been contacted to look into the matter.

Threat against trade unionist31-12-2012

In December 2012, a gang of heavily armed thugs came to the home of the General Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU). He was not at home but police investigation established that the gangs had been acting on instruction with an intention to harm and possibly assassinate him.

Anti-union employers in the wine industry31-12-2011

A 96-page report, “Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries”, issued in August by Human Rights Watch (HRW) disclosed on-site housing unfit for habitation, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working and barriers to union representation. The report went on to say that farm workers are some of the most poorly organised in South Africa. It estimated the percentage of workers represented by trade unions in the Western Cape agricultural sector was just 3%, compared with 30% among those with formal employment nationally. HRW found some farmers try to prevent workers from forming unions, in spite of the country’s laws. Proof that unions can help, in the rare cases where workers succeed in organising, is Sikhula Sonke, a women-led union of farm workers, which says its members now earn the minimum wage of 1,375 rand a month, unlike many in this poorly monitored industry.

High levels of casual labour undermining union rights 31-12-2011

The situation of workers at a poultry factory highlighted the plight of casual workers. The factory, owned by Early Bird Farm, a division of Astral Foods, claimed in January to employ a total of 1,100 workers, of whom 600 were casual workers. The workers themselves claimed that the number of casual employees was much higher. The casual workers said they were brought into the company by labour consultant agencies, or brokers. Most “casual” workers had been working on a “permanent basis” for several years but were not receiving any benefits. They were not affiliated to any labour union and the unions were not allowed to intervene in the event of a dispute. The issue of contract labour, or labour brokerage as it is called in South Africa, was under review as part of the government’s consultation process on the proposed new labour laws – the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and the Employment Services Amendment Bill.

Labour brokerage denies workers their rights11-12-2011

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has called for a ban on labour broking practices in South Africa, explaining that “the system of labour broking guarantees employers an abundant supply of cheap labour that does not enjoy the benefits accorded to other workers and thus perpetuates the exploitation of our people and the negation of their living standards". Other unions support the call for the ban. Christina Oliver, Vice President of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) described labour brokerage as “a form of modern day slavery”, because workers have no job security, often don’t dare join the union for fear of being rejected by the broker, and earn only the minimum wage while permanent workers doing the same job earn more.

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